Humans discovered early on that they couldn't breathe under water (glug...
glug... glug...), so we quickly learned how to swim.
Swimming, the act of propelling your body through water, has become much
more than a way to keep from sinking. Swimming is a great way to relieve stress
or stay in shape. It has also become a well organized, competitive sport.
Many community centers, high schools and colleges have swim teams where
swimmers train to improve their time and race at swimming competitions called
"It's definitely the competition that is my main motivation. The feelings
and thoughts that go through your body while you stand on the blocks before
a race are fantastic," says Frazer Middleton.
Others take to the water for the sheer enjoyment of swimming.
"I love the calm of swimming -- I just put my head down and go. There's
no noise, no real strain on your joints and when you're done you feel refreshed
and you're not dripping with sweat. You feel toned and healthy, without feeling
sore and strained," says swimming enthusiast Megan Hardy.
As a sport, swimming is divided into four different strokes, or
styles of moving through the water.
- The most popular stroke is called the front crawl or the freestyle.
Front crawl swimmers kick their legs alternately and move their arms around
in a windmill motion. The swimmer's face is under water most of the time,
and they turn their head to the side every few seconds in order to breathe.
- The backstroke is essentially the same as the freestyle, except
the swimmer lies on his or her back.
- If you've ever seen the butterfly stroke, you probably thought
it should have been called the "dolphin" instead. The swimmer throws both
arms over the surface of the water and keeps both feet together at all times,
making a fish-like motion.
- The breaststroke would be better described by a more "froggy"
title. When doing this stroke, the swimmer pushes their legs apart and then
whips them back together in order to create thrust. The swimmer's head is
above the surface and arms and legs are under water at all times."The breaststroke
is a really popular one with casual swimmers -- for the obvious reason that
you can talk to your friends while you swim!" says Middleton.
Swimming can be done anywhere there is enough water to move around freely
and safely. A public pool, an ocean beach, a lake, a slow moving river or
even a backyard pool are all great environments for taking the plunge.
Because most places in North America are a tad chilly for open-water swimming
(outdoor swimming) many months of the year, indoor or public pools are the
mainstay of most seasoned swimmers.
"I've become a chlorine addict. Many people prefer open-water swimming,
but I can go either way. Swimming tends to be quite sociable, so you get to
meet a lot of people at the pools," says Middleton.
Most people have tried swimming at one time during their lives, so it's
hard to say just how many people swim. Yet it's safe to say that millions
If you're lucky enough to be near a natural swimming spot, then swimming
will be a pretty inexpensive recreation. After you buy your swimsuit and goggles,
which will cost between $30 and $75, you can dive right in.
Before you head out to the local pond, experienced swimmers highly recommend
forking out the $45 to $110 for some swimming instruction.
If you plan on swimming at a community center, expect to pay between $20
and $50 per month for a pool membership. Competing on school swim teams usually
means free pool time, but there are often expenses involved in traveling to
other cities for swim meets.
While swimming can be a tough physical workout, this is still a great sport
for people who don't normally consider themselves athletes.
"A good swimmer is someone who is willing to practice a lot and push themselves.
Swimming doesn't require the fine coordination that baseball or basketball
do," says Dave Knapp, a swimmer in Oakland, California. "Yet, it is very good
for you and will improve your overall athleticism and coordination, and develop
Swimming is something a person can do at any age. As a result, an interest
in swimming carries over nicely into many careers. Coast guard rescue worker,
lifeguard and swimming coach are all positions where swimming skill is necessary.
Thinking about diving into the sport of swimming?
"Go for it!" says Knapp. "Just find a swimming pool and get in there."
If you've never done any swimming before, jumping into this sport might
not be quite that easy. Experts recommend newcomers take some swimming lessons
in order to learn how to swim properly right from the start.
"I think the most common mistake people make is not taking lessons in the
beginning to get the right technique down for their strokes. If you learn
wrong, you'll be reinforcing bad habits every time you swim," says Hardy.
Community recreation centers, YMCAs, and YWCAs are good places to start
looking for lessons.
The length of time you spend taking lessons is up to you. A person can
learn most of the basic strokes for swimming in less than a year.
"It really depends on what the swimmer wants from the experience. If you
want to be competitive, it takes years of training. If you just want to be
able to handle yourself on the beach, then you won't need many lessons at
all," says Knapp.
Experienced swimmers say lessons are important, but it's perseverance that
makes for a good swimmer.
"Sometimes, you might feel that you're not improving, but all of a sudden
you improve dramatically. Swimming isn't a sport you get good at overnight,
nor do you see continuous improvement. It's a gradual thing," says Middleton.
Another good place to look for information on swimming lessons or coaching
is your local swim club. For people who are more experienced swimmers, this
might also be a good way to find out about swim teams in your area.
If you're not having any luck finding local swim clubs on the Internet,
you might want to check with your national swimming organization.
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